School voucher bill passes in Tennessee House by 2 votes

School voucher bill passes in Tennessee House by 2 votes

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - It was a dramatic morning on the Tennessee House floor as lawmakers voted on Governor Bill Lee’s education savings account proposal. The bill narrowly passed by two votes.

For 40 minutes lawmakers were deadlocked, with a vote of 49-49. Absent from Tuesday’s vote was Covington Representative Debra Moody, so the tie break came from a Knoxville representative who switched his vote to “yes.”

The vote on Governor Bill Lee's education savings account was held open for nearly the entire noon hour Tuesday. Moments after the House vote Governor Bill Lee tweeted "we're one big step closer to giving parents and students needed choice in their education"

However, leading up to the vote were lengthy discussions on the school choice plan that would give some families the ability to use state funds to send their child to a private school.

“I appreciate the governor’s foresight and his willingness to try to help, again, those kids across the state who in my opinion need it the most because guess what as a kid that grew up in that situation that needed help, I got it and I want to see a bunch of other kids that are in the same situation receive that help that I got,” said Dresden Representative Andy Holt (R).

Shelby County Schools has been adamantly against the proposal from the start. Critics of the bill disagree with taking state funds away from public schools.

“For the record, we do not like this bill for Shelby County Schools,” said Memphis Representative Antonio Parkinson (D). “So that all of the members know where we are implicitly.”

Parkinson feels this bill will only hurt the district, which he says has been a role model for improvement for the lowest-performing schools.

“The bill it really honestly didn’t pass,” Parkinson said. “They held the vote open for almost an hour to try to flip one of their members back to a yes vote to get the bill passed. They were able to do that, and the bill limped out of the House chambers.”

Shelby County Schools' Superintendent and its board remain firmly against this legislation.

This bill goes for a full Senate vote on Thursday.

A representative from Shelby County Schools released this statement Tuesday afternoon:

“The passage of vouchers in Tennessee would be an unfortunate roadblock on the path toward serving students in our state’s two largest cities. We will persist in our mission to serve children and families and provide the students in Shelby County with excellent options for their education.”

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